Theology of Work


(Photo credit: here)

S (Scripture): Ecclesiastes 5:13 There is a grievous ill that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owners to their hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture; though they are parents of children, they have nothing in their hands. 15 As they came from their mother’s womb, so they shall go again, naked as they came; they shall take nothing for their toil, which they may carry away with their hands. 16 This also is a grievous ill: just as they came, so shall they go; and what gain do they have from toiling for the wind? 17 Besides, all their days they eat in darkness, in much vexation and sickness and resentment.

18 This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot. 19 Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For they will scarcely brood over the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with the joy of their hearts.

O (Observation):  Solomon has seen what wealth can do to a person.  Wealth can turn a person inward, caring only for himself or herself.   To what end?   To a cold and lonely end.    When a rich person dies, that person cannot take their earthly goods with them.   Toiling is not bad…but if one toils to gain more things…one does so in vain.  

But Solomon gives us another view of toil: joy in contentment.   Brooding over the work gains nothing.   Instead, find the work God has called each to do, and in that, find joy!

A (Application): I continue to be amazed at our capitalistic society in the US and the growing discontent we have in our lives.   The gadgets and gizmos and vacations we all desire can drive us away from contentment and towards a poor view of our work:  work = money for stuff.   

The joy of work gives us purpose and a way to contribute to society.   The wonderful part of capitalism is the opportunity to explore any of your callings and to seek to be paid for it.   However, the downfall of capitalism is that those who cannot work, or those who cannot see work as something to be enjoyed decide that they don’t fit in, and thus, end up on the streets or living off of handouts.  

I pray that everyone find the inherent dignity in all of humanity.   I pray that everyone find the calling God has instilled in them.  I pray that we are all compassionate enough help those whose work does not allow them enough pay to live on their own.   

I pray that we all enjoy our work for the sake of bringing God glory!

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to be thankful and grateful for our callings in this world!  Amen.

The Only Response to God: “I repent!”

dust

S (Scripture): Job 42:1 Then Job answered the Lord: 2 “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted;…3b I have declared without understanding things too wonderful for me to know.

4 You said, ‘Pay attention, and I will speak; I will question you, and you will answer me.’

5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye has seen you.

6 Therefore I despise myself, and I repent in dust and ashes!”

O (Observation):  Job has come to the conclusion of his trials before God.  He never blasphemed God, but he did assume wisdom beyond that of God.   Job thought he knew best, but God’s last couple of points about the weather and the Leviathan being beyond Job’s comprehension were enough to cause Job to come to one conclusion:  “I repent in dust and ashes!”

 

Job has sensed that he truly encountered God in this experience.  He’s heard about God…but he doesn’t think he’s ever heard from God directly.  Now he has.  He has now “seen” God (that is, he has “encountered” God).

A (Application):   Job’s response is the only possible response when in an encounter with God.   Nothing we say or do can ever please God in and of itself.  All that we do is tainted with a bit of sin.   But we act boldly, anyway, trusting that our Lord will guide all things together for those who trust in the Lord.

We can be as righteous as Job, but that still doesn’t make us worthy of God’s love.  Instead, God’s very nature is mercy and love.  And so, we come, humbly, into our encounters with God, trusting that God will pick us up from dust and ashes in which we repent, in order to wash us clean, fill us with the Spirit, and send us out to make disciples.

…but it all starts with the only response possible:  “I repent in dust and ashes…”

P (Prayer):  Lord, give us repentant hearts…and pick us up from the dust and ashes.  Amen.

The Opposite of Faith is…

Certainty-is-overrated

S (Scripture): Job 37
14 “Pay attention to this, Job!
Stand still and consider the wonders God works.
15 Do you know how God commands them,
how he makes lightning flash in his storm cloud?
16 Do you know about the balancing of the clouds,
that wondrous activity of him who is perfect in knowledge?
17 You, whose garments are hot
when the earth is still because of the south wind,
18 will you, with him, spread out the clouds,
solid as a mirror of molten metal?
19 Tell us what we should say to him.
We cannot prepare a case
because of the darkness.
20 Should he be informed that I want to speak?
If a man speaks, surely he would be swallowed up!
21 But now, the sun cannot be looked at –
it is bright in the skies –
after a wind passed and swept the clouds away.
22 From the north he comes in golden splendor;
around God is awesome majesty.
23 As for the Almighty, we cannot attain to him!
He is great in power,
but justice and abundant righteousness he does not oppress.”

O (Observation): Elihu is wrapping up his speech to Job.  He wants to convey the vastness of God’s immensity…of God’s awe-inducing magnificence.   God’s dominion is all-encompassing, and as such, Elihu wants to know if ANYONE should feel like they have the ability to wrestle with God.

Elihu points to the vastness of creation for an example of humanity’s powerlessness compared to the forces of nature.   We cannot control clouds or lightning.   We cannot look into the sun.

And as much as God is more powerful than us, God still seeks justice and righteousness.  God does not oppress justice and righteousness.

A (Application):  Even if the winds don’t seem to be blowing our way, God is on the side of justice.   Even if the sun seems to be a burden on us, God is still on the side of righteousness.

We try to understand why all things happen.   We want certainty…Job wants certainty…and who could blame him?  So many things went wrong for no apparent reason.

Paul Tillich said (in his “Dynamics of Faith”) that “the opposite of faith is not doubt…the opposite of faith is certainty.”   Certainty means that no risk is involved.   Certainty leaves no room for faith.   And faith is all we have when it comes to believing in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the Son of God.

With faith, we become vulnerable to being let down, being hurt, being disappointed…  But with faith, we also have the possibility of a new day, a new hope.

Even though things may be difficult, faith (instilled in you by the Holy Spirit) still allows us to be surprised by hope.  Elihu is trying to give Job hope.

P (Prayer):  Lord, fill us with faith, even though we crave certainty.  Amen.

 

Signs of Hope

Donation

S (Scripture): Job 34

10 “Therefore, listen to me, you men of understanding.
Far be it from God to do wickedness,
from the Almighty to do evil.

11 For he repays a person for his work,
and according to the conduct of a person,
he causes the consequences to find him.

12 Indeed, in truth, God does not act wickedly,
and the Almighty does not pervert justice.”

O (Observation): Job’s friend, Elihu, is speaking.   Elihu is making it clear that he believes God to be just, righteous, regardless of what has happened to Job.   Job has been wondering if God is really just…since Job has been struck with calamity.

Elihu confirms that God does not commit acts of wickedness or evil.  People who commit evil acts do experience the consequences of their actions, their separation from God…though that punishment is never instigated by God.  God would not purposely cause harm to anyone.

A (Application):  A loved one is sick.   You’re a good person, but you’re late to EVERYTHING!   You get a flat tire on your way to work.   These are not punishments from God.   God is not “out to get you.”   At least not as far as I’m concerned.

We live in a broken world…a world in need of redemption.   That includes the likes of you and me.  We are less than perfect, but we are not subject to “getting what we deserve.”  Evil and wickedness just exist in the midst of the brokenness of this world.

Jesus’ resurrection has begun the process of redemption and will come to full fruition when Jesus comes again to judge the world in righteousness.   In the meantime, we catch glimpses of the Kingdom breaking into our world, in our time.

If you find yourself falling in line with Job’s ever-growing pessimism, think on Elihu’s words…and think on the bright spots of God’s inbreaking Kingdom, like the stars that shine forth in the night sky.

Look for people sharing God’s love with their neighbor.  Look for someone picking up trash.  Look for someone paying for someone else’s groceries, which I happened to see just the other day.

And if you cannot find a glimpse of God’s goodness breaking into our world, invite others to point out the way for you.

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to see the signs of your inbreaking Kingdom.  Amen.

Let Go of “The Blame Game”


S (Scripture): Job 30:16 “And now my soul is poured out within me; days of affliction have taken hold of me.
17 The night racks my bones, and the pain that gnaws me takes no rest.
18 With violence he seizes my garment; he grasps me by the collar of my tunic.  
19 He has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes.
20 I cry to you and you do not answer me; I stand, and you merely look at me.
21 You have turned cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me.
22 You lift me up on the wind, you make me ride on it, and you toss me about in the roar of the storm.
23 I know that you will bring me to death,
and to the house appointed for all living.
24 “Surely one does not turn against the needy, when in disaster they cry for help.
25 Did I not weep for those whose day was hard?
Was not my soul grieved for the poor?
26 But when I looked for good, evil came;
and when I waited for light, darkness came.

O (Observation):  Job has suffered many devastating losses: his livestock, his property, his children, his spouse: all killed or destroyed.  He’s trying to make sense of all of this. He’s trying to make sense of why so many bad things are happening in his life. He cannot understand it. 

Job is gathered with his friends around him.  They try to convince him that he’s done something wrong…that he somehow deserves the punishment he’s getting.   And by their line of thinking, only when we do something wrong are we punished.  SOMETHING must have been done to bring on the suffering.  

Yet we – the readers – know that the devil is playing games with Job.  The devil wishes to convince God that even the most upright person can and will turn against God…if given the right “motivation.”  God allows this experiment…and even though Job is angry with God, Job has not denounced his faith.   Though Job is quite perturbed and confused.  

A (Application):  Cancer sucks.  Alzheimer’s sucks.   We live in a broken world.   We get angry at God, doctors, science, ourselves…you name it, we’ve blamed it.  At some point in our lives, we cry out in anger and frustration and want to point to something or someone and blame them for our problems, so that we can diagnose the issue, and correct or eliminate the problem!

Isolate it.   Blame it.   Get angry at it.  Punch it.  Hurt it.  Fix it.  Cure it.  Heal it.  We want to solve the issue.  

Or, if we blame ourselves, we may hurt ourselves…or worse…

We cannot understand why things happen the way they do…for better or for worse.

But we also have a God who redeems.  Even the worst circumstances – even though it may not make sense, ever – God can still redeem…if not in this life, then in the next.   Don’t play the blame game.  No one wins that game.  Instead, let others in.  Let them love you.  Let them bring you hope.  
********************************

If you are in a difficult situation (or someone you know is), please reach out to folks who are trained to help:  

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  
1-800-273-8255; 

or, the Crisis Text Line: text TALK to 741-741.  

P (Prayer): Lord, save us.  Save us all.  Amen. 

This Just Isn’t Fair…but We Have Hope

 

 S (Scripture): Job 21:7 Job:  “Why do the wicked go on living, grow old, even increase in power? 21:8 Their children are firmly established in their presence, their offspring before their eyes. 21:9 Their houses are safe and without fear; and no rod of punishment from God is upon them…21:17 How often is the lamp of the wicked extinguished? How often does their misfortune come upon them? How often does God apportion pain to them in his anger?”

O (Observation):  The argument from Job’s friends is that Job MUST HAVE done something wrong…something deserving of punishment.   That is their explanation for the “punishment” he is experiencing. 

Job applies their logic to those in the world that are openly evil, and yet prosper.   Job wonders, if his friends are correct, why good things can happen to bad people. 

A (Application):  Perhaps asking questions like Job’s questions are simply part of the mystery of the world…something beyond our understanding.   If that’s the case, I can go on wondering about other things.  Instead of trying to figure it all out, I can focus on these 2 important questions:

  1. What is God saying to me? And,
  2. What would God have me do about it?

These 2 questions help me discern my next step.   And these questions are best discerned in community, where we can share Scripture-based insights, and not just use pop-psychology to answer question #1 above.  

What issues are you wrestling with today?  Try using these questions above to hear a word of grace from God and to take a good next step in response.  

P (Prayer): Lord, speak to us.  Help us when we fail to understand why things happen as they do.  Give us peace by sharing your grace with us today, and giving us hope through the Spirit’s prompting into a good next step. Amen. 

How Can This Be?

 

 S (Scripture): Job 13:13 “Refrain from talking with me so that I may speak;
then let come to me what may.
13:14 Why do I put myself in peril,
and take my life in my hands?
13:15 Even if he slays me, I will hope in him;
I will surely defend my ways to his face!
13:16 Moreover, this will become my deliverance,
for no godless person would come before him.”

O (Observation): Job is so sure of his innocence, that he is willing to risk his own life by standing before God to argue his own case.   And he knows that if he is guilty, he will be punished – even to death.  

He resents what his friends have told him.   They have essentially told Job that he must have done something wrong for God to have brought such devastation on him.   Job refuses to believe this, and wants to get to the bottom of this whole thing.  

Job’s boldness is also intriguing.   How dare anyone declare their innocence, let alone proclaiming that one would stand before God!   That’s a very bold move, indeed!

A (Application): I guess my upbringing has always caused me to fear standing before the Lord, but also to rejoice in such a thing.   But in neither case (in fear or rejoicing) did I ever think myself innocent.   

I wonder if that posture is Job’s way of saying, “I want some answers!  And I want them, now!  Damned if I’ll be innocently persecuted!”

Seldom have I felt that kind of righteous anger.  Almost shaking my fist at God kind of frustration.    So I tap into the larger suffering in the world: hunger, lack of health care, slavery, sex trafficking.   Then…I shake my fist and wonder… How can this be?

Sometimes solutions escape us.   So we trust in the Lord…and like we did during Easter Vigil, we look back at light in the midst of darkness; God bringing hope, where there is none.  

And we sit and we wait…and in the meantime, we seek God’s presence in other ways.  And who knows…maybe we become part of the solution.  

In what ways has God called you to action?  Where have you seen God’s presence lately?

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to know that we are one with you.  In this one-ness, we have your Authority to make a difference in this world and the ability to stand before you.  Make us strong when we are weak.  Help us to trust in your Power.  Amen.